To anyone visiting the law offices of Maslon LLP in downtown Minneapolis for the first time, be forewarned: Schedule extra time, lots of it, if you’re at all interested in 20th century art, and bring your walking shoes. You’ll need them, because on display throughout the three floors of space the firm occupies in the Wells Fargo Center tower is a vast collection of paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs and more. Most of the work is representative of 20th century artists, many internationally known.
The Maslon corporate art collection stems from the 1930s, when Sam Maslon first began haunting the galleries and ateliers of New York, Minneapolis and elsewhere in search of collectible art for both his office and home.
Maslon had an unbelievable eye for art, says Bill Pentelovitch, a Maslon partner and one of the keepers of the firm’s artistic flame. The Harvard Law School-educated Maslon kept watch on the art scene for decades, constantly adding more pieces to the collection.
Sam Maslon himself purchased much of the art that adorns the firm’s lobby, hallways, conference rooms, private offices, and clerical areas today. Maslon had the means, motivation and opportunity to collect art from all corners of the international art world, and so he did. Names such as Picasso, Miro, Lichtenstein, Kandinsky and Rauschenberg leap to mind as representative of the cream of the 20th century’s crop of artistic genius.
A native of the Minneapolis north side, Maslon also mined the artistic fields of the upper Midwest for collectibles. Works by artists such as Cameron Booth, Birney McNabb Quick and Ron Gahr found their way into the collection. When the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) held its annual Clothesline Sale to market the works of its student-artists, Maslon was always present. One year he bought the entire sale, according to a former Maslon attorney.
Sam bought what interested him personally, and what he thought would be of interest to the firm’s clients, according to this source.
A grand portrait of Sam Maslon himself, crafted by Birney McNabb Quick, features in the collection. A prolific artist, Quick taught at the Minneapolis School of Art and Design (MCAD), produced over 10,000 works of art in his lifetime – and founded the Grand Marais Art Colony in northern Minnesota. The firm owns several of his works in addition to the portrait piece, which hangs from a wall in a stairwell connecting the firm’s 33rd and 34th floor offices. Interestingly, the piece is illuminated by an art-deco-styled chandelier lamp salvaged from the wreckage of the old Northwestern National Bank Building, destroyed by fire in November 1982.
Maslon moved into its present space in the Wells Fargo Center in 1992. The new space came with an abundance of exterior windows, featuring awe-inspiring panoramic views of Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs (on a clear day you can see at least as far as Minnetonka, some 10 miles distant to the west). What the firm’s former headquarters, in the old Midwest Plaza Building (now RSM Plaza) at Eighth St. S. and the Nicollet Mall, had in spades was art-friendly interior wall space. In decamping to the Wells Fargo Building the firm found itself stretched to find room for the hundreds of pieces of art work that Maslon and Martin Weinstein, his successor at the helm, had so wholeheartedly acquired over the previous 50-some years.
Rather than continue to add to the collection, the firm decided to make the best showing with what it had in stock at the time. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of works of artistic merit didn’t make the cut in terms of being put on display.
The firm quit adding to the collection in the mid-1990s. ‘Our goal today is to preserve the collection as it is,” says Pentelovitch. “It is part of the history — and ambience — of the firm.”
“This was without a doubt one of the finest corporate art galleries in the country from the 1930s on,” says Weinstein. “It still is,” he adds, noting that much of the work in the collection would be in high demand were it ever to come up for auction. “Today, the really good things in the collection that Sam Maslon bought very seldom come in for sale,” he says.
“Sam worked with art dealers worldwide, especially in New York City, which became the epicenter of the art world after World War II,” he says.
Maslon had means, motive and opportunity to purchase great art just as the abstract expressionist movement flowered. He spotted the up-and-comers and bought some pieces from artists early in their careers, before fame struck.
Both Maslon and his wife, Luella, were internationally renowned as art collectors and patrons of the arts. Sam and Luella landed in the ranks of the World’s Greatest Art Collectors annual listings by Art News, a bible of the international art world, for years.
After Luella died in 2001, preceded in death by Sam, much of the Maslons’ personal art collection was put up for auction in New York by Sotheby’s. The sale included a Giacometti sculpture that Sam purchased in the early 1940s for $5,000 — the auctioneer had the original receipt — and sold for a reported $13 million and change.
The Maslon corporate collection spans the better part of many decades — and also the entirety of the three floors of Maslon office space at Wells Fargo Center in downtown Minneapolis.
Among the highlights of the collection:
- A suite of 27 Picasso prints, sprinkled throughout the offices.
- A set of Robert Rauschenberg prints from an early 1970s series called Currents.
- A painting by Yaacov Agam, an Israeli artist with an international reputation.
- A William Wegman canine classic (a Weimaraner perched astride a topped armchair sternly surveilles his domestic kingdom).
- Minnesota artists like Cameron Booth and Birney McNabb Quick.
Maslon also kept close watch on the local and regional art scene, scooping up works by artists such as Cameron Booth, whose impressionistic paintings of hard-scrabble Minnesota life in the 1920s and ’30s earned him a claim to fame as a representative artist of the American-Scenic movement.
The Harvard Law-educated Maslon rose to become one of the great corporate lawyers in America, due in no small part to the connections he established in Cambridge. ”Sam always said that Harvard is the best law school in the country,” according to a former colleague. Maslon bolstered his Ivy League bona fides with a stint in 1923 as law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.
Staff photographer Bill Klotz toured the Maslon offices: